Justia Virginia Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the circuit court granting summary judgment to Liosha Miles on the issue of whether each of the two insurance policies in this case provided separate tranches of insurance of uninsured motorist (UM) coverage and underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage, holding that the circuit court erred.Given her disagreement with GEICO Advantage Insurance Company and GEICO Choice Insurance Company (collectively, GEICO), Miles filed this action seeking a declaration that each policy at issue contained separate $50,000 limits for UM and UIM coverage and that GEICO owed her addition amounts for her UIM claims related to a single automobile accident caused by the negligence of two different drivers other than herself. The circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of Miles. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) UIM coverage is a constituent part of UM coverage; and (2) consequently, the circuit court erred in concluding that Va. Code 38.2-2206(A) required each policy to provide Miles with separate UM and UIM coverage limits for injuries arising from a single accident. View "GEICO Advantage Insurance Co. v. Miles" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the State Corporation Commission (SCC) that approved a petition filed by the Virginia Electric and Power Company (VEPCO) to obtain a rate-adjustment clause pursuant to Va. Code 56-585.1(A)(5)(e), holding that, contrary to the arguments brought by Applalachian Voices on appeal, the SCC applied the proper legal standard governing such requests.VEPCO made its request to recover projected costs of purchasing allowances through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a cap-and-trade market regulating carbon dioxide emissions by electric utilities. On appeal, Appalachian Voices, a nonprofit environmental organization, argued that the SCC failed to apply the law when it approved VEPCO's petition. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the SCC did not misunderstand or fail o apply the legal standard governing petitions filed pursuant to Va. Code 56-585.1(A)(5)(e). View "Appalachian Voices v. State Corp. Comm'n" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the circuit court determining that an auctioneer had verbally modified its advertised terms prior to the start of the auction and ordering the conveyance of a fee simple interest in a parcel of real property by special warranty deed to Plaintiff, holding that the circuit court erred.Plaintiff attended an auction advertised by Plaintiff for the sale of the property at issue. Plaintiff's bid was the high bid, but Defendants refused to sell the property for that amount. Plaintiff brought this complaint seeking specific performance, alleging that, in the pre-auction announcement, Defendants used language stating that the auction was going to be an absolute auction. The trial court ruled that Plaintiff was entitled to specific performance and ordered the conveyance of the property by special warranty deed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the trial court erred in ruling that the auction was an absolute auction rather than an auction with reserve; and (2) therefore, no contract was formed between the parties. View "Williams v. Janson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the circuit court partially denying Appellant's petition for a writ of mandamus and purportedly denying his request for attorney's fees and costs, holding that the circuit court misapplied a definition of "personnel information."In his mandamus petition, Appellant requested documents related to employment disputes in the Town of South Hill, as well as attorney's fees and costs. The circuit court denied the petition in part after applying definitions of "personnel record" from a previous version of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (VFOIA) instead of "personnel information." The court further refused to award attorney's fees and costs. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case for further proceedings, holding that the circuit court erred in its interpretation and application of the personnel information exemption under VFOIA. View "Hawkins v. Town of South Hill" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed three rulings by the trial court in a pending criminal case in these consolidated appeals, holding that the trial court erred in barring public access to a pretrial bail hearing, by keeping certain motions and exhibits under seal, and by finding that the City of Newport News lacked standing to oppose any public access to sealed documents that the City had previously produced in response to a subpoena.The underlying case involved a murder indictment and ancillary charges against a Newport News police officer. Two newspaper publishers and a reporter filed an appeal challenging rulings barring access to the pretrial bail hearing and keeping motions and exhibits under seal. The City challenged the ruling that the City lacked standing to oppose public access to the sealed documents it produced in response to the subpoena. The Supreme Court reversed all three holdings, holding that the trial court erred as to all three rulings. View "Daily Press, LLC v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the circuit court admitting the will at issue in this case to probate and appointing an administrator for the estate of James A. Townsey but otherwise reversed, holding that the circuit court erred in granting relief on counts two and three of the complaint.The circuit court admitted Townsey's will to probate, appointed an administrator for the estate, and awarded the proceeds of a brokerage account to a German charity. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) the circuit court properly admitted the will to probate and appointed an administrator for Townsey's estate; and (2) the circuit court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of Appellant on counts two and three of the complaint. View "Taylor v. Aids-Hilfe Koln e.V." on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates
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The Supreme Court held that, pursuant to Va. Code 40.1-29(J), joint employer liability in a collective action for unpaid wages cannot be imposed upon individuals who act directly or indirectly in the interest of an employer in relation to an employee.Plaintiffs sued on behalf of themselves and others similarly situated to recover wages allegedly unpaid by Christian Psychotherapy Services (CPS), their employer. Plaintiffs also named as defendants Jason Benedict and Cheryl Ludvik. In the complaint, Plaintiffs argued that Benedict and Ludvik should be considered as employers who were liable, jointly and severally, with CPS for the unpaid wages pursuant to section 40.1-29(J). The circuit court sustained Benedict's and Ludvik's pleas in bar, concluding that neither individual met the definition of "employer." The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that that section 40.1-2 adopts a narrower definition of "employer" than the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. 201 et seq., and thus excludes individuals from implied employer liability under section 40.1-29(J). View "Cornell v. Benedict" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the circuit court dismissing Ashland, LLC's claim against Virginia-American Water Company for an alleged breach of contract, holding that the circuit court erred in concluding that Va. Const. art. IX, 4 deprived it of jurisdiction to adjudicate Ashland's contract claim.Ashland filed suit against Virginia-American, which provided water to Ashland pursuant to a tariff issued by the State Corporation Commission, after a power outage disrupted water service to Ashland, resulting in $515,000 in damages due to lost business and profits. Ashland's complaint asserted a breach of contract claim based on an alleged violation of the tariff. The circuit court concluded that the promulgation of a tariff by the Commission is an action of the Commission, and therefore, the circuit court lacked jurisdiction. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that circuit courts are free to read and then apply the terms of a tariff as adopted by the Commission as necessary to resolve a common law dispute. View "Ashland, LLC v. Virginia-American Water Co." on Justia Law

Posted in: Contracts
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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed and remanded in part the judgment of the circuit court awarding sanctions against Plaintiffs, holding that the circuit court erred in awarding the total amount of the attorney's fees claimed.Plaintiffs brought this claim alleging fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, tortious interference with a contractual relationship or business expectancy, and business conspiracy against Defendant, a former employee. After the circuit court granted Plaintiffs' motions to nonsuit as to all parties the circuit court granted Defendant's motion for sanctions, awarding sanctions of $213,197 - Defendant's total attorney's fees - against Plaintiffs. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding that the circuit court (1) was within its discretion to award sanctions against Plaintiffs; but (2) erred in awarding sanctions for certain conduct and in failing to segregate sanctionable claim from the attorney's fees requested. View "AV Automotive, LLC v. Gebreyessus" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the circuit court dismissing Appellant's claims against the Rappahannock Area Community Services Board (RACSB) based on its determination that RACSB was a municipal corporation entitled to sovereign immunity, holding that RACSB is not a municipal corporation.Appellant received psychological therapy through RACSB at its facilities when he was between six to eight years old. Appellant brought this action against the estate of Scott Henry and RACSB, alleging that Henry, a therapist employed by RACSB, molested him during his counseling sessions. RACSB filed a plea in bar, claiming that it was entitled to sovereign immunity as either an "arm" of the Commonwealth or as a municipal corporation performing a governmental function. The circuit court granted the plea in bar, concluding that RACSB was a municipal corporation that was performing a governmental function by providing mental health treatment to Defendant. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that RACSB was not a municipal corporation because it lacked the fundamental characteristics of such an entity. View "Fines v. Rappahannock Area Community Services Bd." on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury